With Ann Coulter going around saying offensive things like "America would be better off if everyone were Christian," I wonder whether anyone in the gay community would care to "reach conservatives" at all about a better understanding gay issues. The tension (and discouragement) mounts as I look forward to attending the community discussion this Wednesday, co-sponsered by API (Asian/Pacific Islander) Equality and CA Faith for Equality.
I have no idea what strategies we're going to talk about. But one thought I'd like to bring to the table is this: as with liberals, conservatives tend to trust only their own. Particularly conservatives in the Christian community. Unless you're willing to open up your Bible and cite chapter and verse, and are willing to work with a theological framework built upon the key points of creation, fall, redemption and consummation, you are not speaking their language. Your arguments simply won't make sense to them. If you start talking about "inclusion" or "love" apart from the ideas of divine mercy, forgiveness and atonement, then as far as they are concerned you are just babbling some liberal, idealistic, world-peace, hippie language that is out of touch with reality as they understand it.
I know. Jesus loved people. Jesus included people. But if you read the Gospel accounts, his love and inclusiveness embraced those people who looked to him in faith for the forgiveness of their sins. You simply can't get around that, especially if you read the account of Jesus' last supper with his disciples, where he plainly says that his imminent death is to be accomplished "for the many for forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28). He laid down his life not merely because he loves us--though that is true--and not merely because he wants to include people of every tongue, tribe and nation in his kingdom--though that is also true. But the basis for his love and inclusiveness is his own atoning sacrifice on behalf of sinners. It is not merely that we must believe ourselves to be sinners. It is that we must believe that Jesus views us as sinners, and that he came to us for no other reason than to save us from the condemnation we have brought upon ourselves.
That is the conservative Christian view of things. Which means that when it comes to discussing homosexuality with them, there is little value in taking them to task on their position that homosexuality is a part of humanity's fallen and sinful condition. At best, you might try to convince people that while humanity certainly is corrupted by sin, homosexuality is not one of those sins for which Jesus died. But even I have not been convinced by such arguments.
Instead, I would suggest approaching conservative Christian leaders with a challenge to be open to the policy of celibacy for their homosexual church members. While that may seem like a big concession for more liberal-minded gays and lesbians to make, it is a much bigger concession for church leaders to accept, because it would be admitting that homosexuality might be a permanent condition that ex-gay ministries can't fix. And yet if leaders put up resistance to a celibacy policy, this is where we can challenge them: How can the church not tolerate celibate gay members? If people aren't acting upon their orientation, what sin have they committed in the church's eyes that would justify putting them out of the fold?
If celibate homosexuals are allowed to exist and be supported within the church, a natural education process would take place as people get to know what a gay or lesbian person is really like, apart from the media stereotypes and right-wing propaganda. Caring personal relationships are what change people's minds, not outreach programs or advertisement campaigns.
In my opinion, this is the blueprint for reaching conservatives within the faith community. But will I have the guts to share it?